Illegal loan sharks who prey on increasingly desperate borrowers; rampant tax evasion; trolls in cyberspace who recruit group suicides or who serve as middlemen for prostitution by minors, or who arrange services of hitmen. Some sell their family registry data to abet sham marriages with foreigners. "Hakobiya" (mules) smuggle drugs and other illegal substances, assuming the risk of imprisonment for a round-trip ticket abroad and a pathetically small payout.
Biweekly magazine Sapio (Sept 9) takes up these and other matters in a 12-page special section titled "Writhing of the 'Dark Society' that is Swallowing up Japan." The title and articles that follow imply Japan is becoming a society where the law of the jungle reigns.
The three-page story on tax evasion could well provide inspiration for a remake of "Marusa no Onna." In fiscal 2008, the National Tax Agency charged companies and individuals with evasion to the tune of 35 billion yen, the top five offenders being mining and metals firms, real estate companies, worker dispatch firms, commodities brokers and pachinko shop operators. Investigators armed with search warrants did their digging in places like the back yard of a Fukushima factory owner, where they unearthed a canister containing 73 million yen in cash. In addition to heavy fines, the most serious violators face imprisonment.
Basically, any current news topic can be spun off as an opportunity for creative con artists. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication's PR activities for the switchover from analog to digital TV in 2011, for example, have spurred a host of new scams. Some crooks call on householders, clad in uniforms resembling those worn at mass appliance retailers; others present business cards introducing themselves as staff of the above ministry's "Promotional Business Bureau." In both cases, their aim is trick naïve people into signing up for unnecessary rewiring work or electronic components.
High-pressure sales techniques for energy-efficient water heaters and other products related to the so-called "eco boom" have resulted in well-meaning householders being bilked out of millions of yen. A standard MO is to tell potential buyers they're entitled to a government rebate. "But eligibility is limited, so you have to sign up right now or you can't get it," a salesman will say.
Within weeks of the outbreak of H1N1 influenza, hucksters were peddling spurious medications. Now, with reports of the first fatalities and fears of an epidemic as the weather turns cooler, more flu-related scams are a virtual certainty.
When it comes to illegal profiteering, however, virtually nothing is sacred. This year being the 20th anniversary of Emperor Akihito's ascension to the throne, as well as the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Empress Michiko, there's been a leap in scams by companies marketing deluxe framed portraits to people who didn't order them.
"If you receive goods you didn't order, you can just dispose of them after 14 days," advises Asao Ito, a spokesperson for the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan. "But it seems the greater the esteem a person holds toward the imperial family, the harder it is for him to discard such pictures.
"Scammers are harnessing that psychology to their advantage."© Japan Today